Category Archives: Fiction Contest Week

Fiction Contest Week Concludes on CIMSEC

By Dmitry Filipoff

Last week CIMSEC ran the top 10 stories submitted to the USNI-CIMSEC Fiction Contest.  The top finishers were ultimately selected by our esteemed panel of judges, which included August Cole, David Weber, Larry Bond, Kathleen McGinnis, Peter Singer, and Ward Carroll.

Authors explored future hypotheticals of maritime security and naval conflict through narrative storytelling. Unconventional outcomes and methods were often the result of modern concepts and capabilities that seem familiar. Through these fictional short stories, we may gain insight into how the future of maritime security may evolve, or go awry.

Below are the top finishers and stories featured during CIMSEC’s Fiction Contest Week. We thank the judges, our partners at USNI, and all submitting authors for their excellent contributions.

1st Place: Security by Obsolescence,” by Captain James Schmitt, USAF

“Sleazy laughed. The Reaper was many things, but it wasn’t intimidating. A low pass over the ships wasn’t going to scare off the China Coast Guard. If the MQ-9 was going to scare the Chinese, it wasn’t going to be with its speed.”

2nd Place: Bone Daddy,” by Michael Barretta 

“DF-26B ballistic missiles split the sky with their hypersonic screams. Guam Killers rained down and Andersen Air Force Base burned. Greasy, black smoke, illuminated by bright flashes of primary detonations, billowed violently into the sky. War was loud, very loud, thought Lieutenant Andrew Cohen as he strapped into the right seat of Bone Daddy, a B-1B Sea Control Bomber. He was first to the aircraft and had hit the alert button at the base of nose gear to start the engines before climbing up to the cockpit.”

3rd Place: Reality Hack,” by Robert Williscroft

“The seafloor was a hundred feet below, and the water was crystal clear. A thousand feet above, the sun shined brightly over the South China Sea, but not a single ray penetrated to where we were, on the seafloor, some forty nautical miles southwest of the Hainan Island coast. We were in international waters but very much inside the Chicoms’ exclusive economic zone. Somewhere below, yet nearby, was a Chicom acoustic array that allowed their intelligence people to identify and track every American submarine in the South China Sea outside the continental break. Our job was to take it out.”

#CancelMolly,” by Major Brian Kerg, USMC

“‘Thank you, Senator,’ Molly said. ‘If you will, allow me to step to the past to help understand the future. I joined the Corps just as Force Design 2030 was reaching maturation, and I saw firsthand what the fight was like under that model. And a lot of Marines died because we still had to ‘fight to get to the fight.’” She let that hang, giving the comment extra time by taking a sip from her glass of water.”

First Move,” by Dylan Phillips-Levine and Trevor Phillips-Levine

“I remembered the HMS Defender’s ‘innocent passage’ last year; I flew as the aircraft commander. The situation escalated to the point where my SU-24 dropped 4 x OFAB 250kg bombs in its path after repeated warnings from violating Russia’s sovereign territorial waters. However, despite the bombs, she refused to alter course. Since then, the West brazenly increased their FONOPs and ‘innocent passage’ transits.”

Task Force Foo Fighter,” by Jon Paris

“The missiles glided to their targets at supersonic speeds and lanced into the waiting enemy. Explosions washed out Burner’s screen. She peered outside and saw several orbs remained. They bolted in the direction of the cruiser. Burner put her jet on its wingtip and yanked into a body-crushing turn to follow, but they were too fast and sped out of view.”

The Baffin Bay Turkey Shoot,” by Mike Matson

“Lt. Larsen, taking local command of the swarm, sent a burst transmission, and the formation seamlessly shifted in the dark. ISR and jammers climbed to 5,000 meters. The HARMs moved to the tips on the flanks, and the two heavy weapon Raiders moved to the center. The swarm formed a crescent, with the tips farthest forward, HARMs waiting for the first electronic signs of its prey.”

Fishbowl in a Barrel,” by Keith Nordquist

“In an SCS, a crew of two could handle an entire New Panamax container ship on their own. From pinpointing a micro-mechanical problem in the turbine assembly to coordinating the additive manufacturing of repair parts at the next port-of-call, the system could do it all. Such impressive technology led Damocles Logistics’ CEO to call the SCS ‘a revolutionary tool for seamless and global logistics.’ The small cadre of SCS mission commanders and mission engineers preferred instead to call their little revolution a scuzz-bucket. Semantics aside, the system made autonomous, large container ship movements possible. Until it didn’t.”

The Dream of Russia: The Events of September 23rd, 2024,” by Billy Bunn

“Aboard the Kolpino, Kastonov and his crew had already moved on to their next mission: proceed west towards Crete, positioning outside of Souda Bay, Greece, and wait for further orders. As the largest NATO naval base in the Mediterranean, he prayed those orders didn’t include engaging hostile American ships. But Russia had just unleashed a surprise attack on a NATO member, and he knew that Article 5 impelled a response. Hopefully, his superiors had crafted a plan that would keep the U.S. and her allies from fulfilling this commitment.”

Any Clime and Place,” by Karl Flynn

“First Lieutenant Liu, USMC, looked north out to sea toward the Luzon Strait. The sky was turning amber and orange as the sun sank toward the horizon. He knew Taiwan lay beyond the horizon 200 kilometers away. As he often did, he began to wonder what was happening there. As a platoon commander, he was not privy to strategic level actions. Even if he had had internet access, it would have been impossible to discern the truth from news sources, much less social media. Both sides were pushing as much deception as possible. Liu knew he probably wouldn’t find out until well after the war concluded, which, as far as he knew, could last for a very, very long time.”

Dmitry Filipoff is CIMSEC’s Director of Online Content. Contact him at Content@cimsec.org.

Featured Image: “J-15 Flying Shark (with J-15S),” by Jeffbearholy via Artstation

Security by Obsolescence

Fiction Contest Week

1st Place Finisher

By Captain James Schmitt, U.S. Air Force

Captain Hal “Sleazy” Slotsma watched the sea pass underneath his aircraft. The day was calm and the water’s surface mostly unmarred, though the occasional wakes passing through his field of vision led him to fishing vessels and other small craft. Looking at the brilliant blue water illuminated by a sun just starting to set, he could feel a familiar emotion building inside. “I am so damn bored,” he announced, startling the other person in the cockpit.

“We still have four hours until the break crew gets in,” said Corporal Sam “Curbs” London, settling back into her seat and glancing at the shift schedule on a screen to her right. “Is it your Friday or something?”

“Thursday,” said Sleazy glumly. He had two days left in his rotating workweek.

“Well, you’re in for a long night,” said Curbs, catching the edge of a wake and following it with the aircraft’s camera. “You never know, though. Maybe this wake leads to a sub and we get the XO’s bottle of scotch.”

“Some sub to leave a wake this big,” said Sleazy, as the camera finally caught the other edge of the wake, the disruptions making a “V” pointing to a ship still off-screen. “Maybe a tanker got lost.”

“Maybe not,” said Curbs, who had caught up with the ship and begun to zoom in.

Instead of the high-walled stern of a tanker, the ship’s aft was flat and sleek. As the camera slewed, it became clear that the ship was military, not commercial; it had a well-marked helipad, tapered bridge, and two uncovered mounted machine guns.

“Well, they’re not supposed to be here,” said Sleazy. “White hull?”

“White hull,” confirmed Curbs, identifying the ship as Coast Guard instead of a gray-hulled regular Navy vessel. The white hull also provided enough contrast to clearly see the bright red Chinese flag flying from the mast. “Not a monster ship, though.”

Curbs was right. The ship didn’t have the familiar bulk of the CCG-3901, a massive China Coast Guard ship that had terrorized Japanese fishing boats for the past four months. The outdated ship had surprisingly free rein of the area after decisively winning a game of chicken against a Japan Coast Guard cutter. A determined rescue effort saved the Japanese ship from sinking, but political leaders had still backed away from any further confrontations.

This mystery vessel’s course was as unusual as its type. Curbs was used to seeing Chinese ships patrolling a regular path through the waters off the Senkaku islands, part of normalizing their “domestic police actions.” This ship, however, was steaming in the general direction of the disputed islands, but it wasn’t on the normal course.

“I’m going to see where they’re headed,” said Sleazy, pulling up a moving map on a screen to his left. “Let’s look around to see if there’s anyone else.”

“Copy,” Curbs acknowledged, beginning an expanding search with practiced precision as Sleazy projected the ship’s course on his map. As far as he could tell, it would pass within two miles of Uotsuri Island, the westernmost of the disputed Senkaku islands. It wouldn’t be the closest approach that he had ever seen—hell, a maritime militia fleet had briefly landed on the islands a couple months ago—but it was odd. Odd enough for him to take a closer look.

“Coming left,” he said to Curbs, banking gently and activating the aircraft’s air-to-sea radar to sweep the area off the islands. There was plenty to find—just under two miles northwest of Uotsuri there was a cluster of a dozen returns, perhaps more. Sleazy waited for the radar to make a second pass, but the screen froze. Looking to another screen, Sleazy could see that the feed from the camera had frozen there as well.

“Lost link,” said Curbs, somewhat obviously. The link between their ground control station and the MQ-9 remotely piloted aircraft had failed. Sleazy and Curbs were now sitting in a moderately expensive shipping container in Hawaii, not in the cockpit of an aircraft flying over the East China Sea. Sleazy picked up the phone.

“Savage 26 lost link,” he told the communications technician on the other end. “Let’s get countermeasures going.”

It wasn’t long after the Marines started flying MQ-9s in the Pacific that the Chinese had begun interfering with their command-and-control links. The interference had turned into a back-and-forth competition, with increasingly ingenious and complex jamming and counter-jamming. The latest solution let MQ-9 aircrew defend their link to the aircraft . . . usually.

“Sorry, sir, but we can’t,” the tech answered immediately. Sleazy was sure he could hear other phones ringing in the background of the call—not a good sign. When comm techs were busy, it was often a bad day for everyone. “There’s jamming across the whole scope. I’m surprised the damn phones are working.”

“It’s not just us?” asked Sleazy, surprised. Harassing one MQ-9, especially one near the Senkakus, was pretty par for the course. But the Chinese normally avoided escalation.

“It’s everyone,” confirmed the tech. “Not just SatCom, either. Over-the-air comms are out, and the internet is so slow that even the backup chat is down.”

“How are we talking, then?” asked Sleazy. While he was talking on what seemed like a phone, it was technically a Voice over IP device routing the call through a secure network.

The tech laughed.

“Security by obsolescence,” he said. “There’s a backup mode on these things that routes through an old satellite constellation in the X band that no one uses. It’s so out of date that the Chinese probably decommissioned their jammers for it.”

Sleazy laughed too. “Hey, no mocking old tech. This whole MQ-9 program basically exists because the Air Force had leftovers. In fact, we used to be on X-band.” “Too bad you’re not there anymore,” said the tech. “Anyway, sir, you need anything else? It’s getting pretty hectic here.”

Sleazy stayed silent, staring at the frozen image on the screen. “Hang on a second,” he said. “Curbs, do you remember the brief we got with the last software update?” Curbs looked up from documenting the jamming.

“Yes?” she answered hesitantly.

“Not a test,” said Sleazy, grinning. “Do you remember the new procedure for emergency divert? One of the steps was to manually disable the link recovery automatic checklist.”

“Yeah,” said Curbs, “because the genius engineers still had it set to the backup.”

“The X-band backup!” Sleazy turned back to the phone. “Still there?”

“Yeah, and I heard you,” said the tech, starting to get excited. “We’re not really supposed to use that constellation without coordinating first, but what the hell. How do

you feel about limited bandwidth?”

“A hell of a lot better than no bandwidth,” said Sleazy. “Give me the numbers.”

They went back and forth for a couple minutes, getting the technical details for the new link pathway. Finally, the video stuttered. It dropped noticeably in quality and then restarted, displaying blue water dulled by low fidelity. Triumphantly, Sleazy and Curbs retook control of the aircraft and camera.

“Nice thinking,” said the comms tech. “You might be the only people with a connection back home.”

“We’ll see what we can do with it. Thanks for getting us going again,” said Sleazy. As he hung up the phone, Curbs was already looking for their target. The China Coast Guard ship, moving at an unhurried 10 knots, was easy to reacquire.

“Tally,” announced Curbs. “Same course, same speed.”

“Headed right toward those other contacts. Let’s see if we can find his friends.”

“You think maritime militia?” asked Curbs as she worked.

“Probably,” said Sleazy. “They love to cause trouble.”

The camera, zoomed out to move quickly, picked up some specks. The images enlarged, then sharpened as Curbs worked her controls.

“We should have put money on it,” she said. The ships were civilian, but they weren’t the fishing ships of the maritime militia. They were massive and had just begun a slow crawl toward the Senkakus. A brief check on the Coast Guard ships showed they had changed course to join as a small flotilla a mile or so off Uotsuri.

“RO/ROs,” said Sleazy, referring to roll-on/roll-off ships used to transport cars. “That’s new.”

“And they’re moving,” pointed out Curbs. “Right toward the islands.”

Sleazy considered briefly, then pointed the aircraft at the Senkakus. RO/ROs might be an easy way for patriotic Chinese citizens to transport some supplies to Uotsuri as a publicity stunt. Or they might be a great way to transport military equipment. Sleazy figured that in the worst-case scenario, it couldn’t hurt to be in a position to intercept.

“Let’s try to figure out what we’ve got,” he said. He pulled up yet another screen and scrolled to the location of the Chinese fleet, finding a cluster of returns from the hodgepodge of sensors on the aircraft. It looked largely like any other civilian group of ships with their associated emissions. Radios, navigation radar, AIS signals—the mess of identifiers required to operate safely in international waters. Most were represented as dots, but twoway communications were represented by faint lines. They branched out to navigation stations, other vessels, and . . . an area near the city of Fuzhou?

“Hey, Curbs,” said Sleazy, pointing at the lines. “You see this HF connection? Every ship has one to Fuzhou.”

Curbs sat up straight. “Isn’t the Eastern Army headquarters in Fuzhou?”

She was right—the PLA command responsible for the invasion of Taiwan and the Senkakus was communicating with this fleet. If Sleazy had any doubts about what was in the RO/ROs before, he didn’t now.

“It’s an occupation,” he said. “They’re going to land enough equipment to make it a fait accompli. Probably a whole A2AD kit.”

“What can we do about it?” asked Curbs. “Even if we could confirm it, and even if someone wanted us to shoot, we can’t talk to anyone with this jamming. Look, the damn phone even cut out.”

She pointed at the phone next to her, which now featured a prominent spinning wheel.

“We’re not going to start World War III anyway,” said Sleazy. “We need a nonkinetic option.”

“Get some 35s in here for a show of force,” suggested Curbs. “That would scare them right off.” “Probably, but it’ll take too long,” said Sleazy. “They’re not going to pack up after they land, it would look too bad. We have to get them to turn around.”

“So, we need to spook them with all of one MQ-9,” said Curbs. “Hey, we could try a show of force.”

Sleazy laughed. The Reaper was many things, but it wasn’t intimidating. A low pass over the ships wasn’t going to scare off the China Coast Guard. If the MQ-9 was going to scare the Chinese, it wasn’t going to be with its speed.

“I think I have an idea,” he said, “but it’s going to mean a major security violation.”

“Good thing the security team is on leave.”

“Alright, grow a track,” said Sleazy, “and grab my cell phone from the front. We’re going to become some opensource intel.”

In a surprisingly short time, everything was set up. Sleazy’s cell phone was propped up haphazardly on a stand, livestreaming to Twitch. The viewership was surprisingly high—a counter in the corner read 482—and surprisingly localized to Japan. Marine liaisons, informed by a cell phone call, had reached out to the Japan Coast Guard, which had in turn distributed the stream to local fishing boats. An overlay even included a helpful map showing the location of the video feed. 

Smaller and nimbler than the Chinese RO/ROs, Japanese fishing ships started moving toward the Senkakus. Even the poorest fishers carried a small Starlink terminal, and word spread at the speed of low-earth orbit internet. After the Chinese rammed their Coast Guard ship, Japanese citizens were determined to prevent another embarrassing maritime incident. It was hard to feel anything other than admiration as a cluster of small boats gathered around the islands. And the group of boats kept growing.

Sleazy also felt increasing concern for the fishers. The China Coast Guard ships were paramilitary vessels. They were larger than any of the fishing ships, and they were armed. If they wanted to clear a path through the impromptu fishing blockade, they could do it. But if they did, it would be a bloody, aggressive act. Maybe too aggressive—maybe so aggressive that it would set the Chinese back more in international opinion than the gains from occupying the Senkakus.

“They have to know that we’re here,” said Sleazy.

“Show of force?” asked Curbs hopefully.

“Sort of,” said Sleazy. One of the few radio channels not filled by the static of jammers was 156.8 MHz, a channel reserved for vessels in distress. Feeling a strange sense of relief when the static stopped and he heard radio silence for the first time in hours, Sleazy switched to the distress frequency and keyed the mic.

“Unknown Chinese vessels at position 25 48 north, 123 20 east, this is the United States military,” he said, keeping his voice level through the adrenaline of unauthorized international diplomacy. “You are unlawfully transiting a designated protected area within the sovereign Japanese waters. Reverse course, acknowledge this transmission, and exit Japanese waters immediately.”

“I don’t think that’s the script from the SPINS,” said Curbs wryly, referencing the theater Special Instructions that spelled out authorized radio transmissions in exacting detail. The instructions were so precise that there was a persistent rumor of pilots who had lost their theater qualification for getting a single word wrong. And Sleazy had just gone completely off-script.

“Not quite,” agreed Sleazy, letting out a breath. “Don’t worry, I’m pretty sure you won’t have to do the requalification training with me.”

Any further contemplation was cut off by a return radio call, delivered in English so pristine and mellifluous that it might have been from a professional actor.

“American aircraft,” said the voice. “This is the Chinese Coast Guard patrol cutter Haijing 1126. You and the paramilitary fleet of boats off the Diaoyu Islands are in Chinese territory and are in an area of live-fire operations.

Please exit the area to the east, or there may be unintentional damage to your vessels or aircraft.”

Time to call their bluff, thought Sleazy, hoping desperately that it was true.

Haijing 1126,” he responded, ensuring that he kept using his cool radio voice, “this is an MQ-9 aircraft with a full-motion, high-definition, video feed of your actions. Any attempted ‘accident’ will be broadcast live to the world and recorded for history. If you do not believe me, I invite you to tune in to the broadcast yourself.”

He slowly read out the website for the live stream, to no immediate response from the Chinese. But a couple minutes later, the viewer count began climbing rapidly. Most of the new viewers were smart enough to route through a VPN, but apparently some of his new Chinese audience was in too much of a rush to bother. Satisfied that his message had gotten across, he returned to the radio.

Haijing 1126, this is the United States military. I assume you have now seen our live feed. Any hostile act against this aircraft or Japanese ships in the area will be a public act of violence and aggression.”

He bit back the instinct to add “and get the hell out.” The Chinese ships needed a way to leave without losing face, and they couldn’t do that if it looked like they were following American imperialist direction. He bounced his leg nervously as he waited for a response, shaking the cockpit until Curbs looked over, annoyed. He stopped and focused on flying a precise figure eight in the sky over the Senkakus while they waited.

“American aircraft,” said the Chinese voice, abruptly. “Your presence is illegal, as is the presence of unauthorized fishing ships. We have noted the hull numbers of all ships involved and will be issuing citations for unauthorized fishing operations. We will also file a complaint and issue a fine for the unsafe operation of an aircraft inside an Air Defense Identification Zone. Haijing 1126 out.”

“They’re changing course,” said Curbs, amazed. “I can’t believe that worked.”

Sure enough, Sleazy could see the small fleet breaking up. The RO/ROs turned ponderously back onto a course toward the mainland, as the Coast Guard ships split off to pick up a standard patrol route. Over the next few minutes, the video quality snapped back to high-definition normality as the jamming between cockpit and aircraft disappeared. At the same time, the persistent static on the tactical frequencies cleared, and aircraft began checking back in. The East China Sea was returning to its normal uneasiness.

“Well,” said Sleazy. “I’m not paying that fine.”

Captain James Schmitt is an MQ-9 pilot with more than 2,500 combat and combat-support hours. He currently serves on the Air Staff and is a graduate student in strategic studies at Norwich University. He is a graduate of American University’s School of International Service and the U.S. Air Force Weapons School.

Featured Image: “MQ-9 Reaper” by Neakster via Artstation.

Bone Daddy

Fiction Contest Week

2nd Place Finisher

By Michael Barretta

DF-26B ballistic missiles split the sky with their hypersonic screams. Guam Killers rained down and Andersen Air Force Base burned. Greasy, black smoke, illuminated by bright flashes of primary detonations, billowed violently into the sky. War was loud, very loud, thought Lieutenant Andrew Cohen as he strapped into the right seat of Bone Daddy, a B-1B Sea Control Bomber. He was first to the aircraft and had hit the alert button at the base of nose gear to start the engines before climbing up to the cockpit. 

Cohen opened his NATOPS pocket checklist. His hands shook and he couldn’t stop them. This wasn’t a fight. This was straight up murder from the sky and any second now a thousand-pound high-explosive warhead was going to detonate fifty feet above him and the overpressure would flatten him to a thin paste of jelly before his synapses could fire. Patriot and THAAD missiles arced skyward, leading long vaporous contrails. Bursts of light illuminated the high cumulus clouds gathering in the early dawn. 

Second wave incoming. 

He stared for several impossibly long seconds at his NATOPS checklist as if it was written in some strange, foreign language. An explosion rocked his aircraft and bits of Andersen Air Force base pelted the fuselage. 

Bone Daddy’s aircraft commander, Lieutenant Commander David Ross, was lost somewhere in the burning base; Cohen didn’t think he would show. AW1 Patrick Lenihan, Bone Daddy’s Offensive Weapon System Operator, appeared. The man’s face was scorched red and his barely within regulations hair was burned to tight ashen curls.

“Sir, if we don’t get out of here, we are going to die.”

“I know. We need…”

“Sir, no one else is coming. They are all dead.” 

“Okay.” Cohen advanced the throttles and the four F101 engines spooled up from idle. The aircraft lurched forward and he steered it off the alert strip onto runway Six Left. “Get up here and strap in.”

 Lenihan sat and strapped himself into the left seat as the aircraft rolled. On the runway, Cohen advanced the throttles to their stops, full afterburner. Bone Daddy surged as all four afterburners lit. 

The second wave impacted. 

Debris rained down. Pieces of runway. Pieces of buildings. Pieces of people. The nose dropped off a buckled slab of upheaved runway. Cohen thought of Air France’s Concorde trailing fire when kicked-up debris ruptured a fuel cell. Airspeed built and the nose broke ground. The Air Force’s B-21 Raider hangars exploded and rivers of burning JP-8 fuel flowed across the runway.

The main mounts slipped free and he sucked the gear up, flying through fire. He pushed the nose over for airspeed. 360 knots. Wings swept back 25 degrees. The jet was heavy with 16 AGM-158D Long Range Anti-Ship missiles in the mid and aft bays and an auxiliary fuel tank in the forward.

 The smartest thing Cohen could do was get away from ground zero.

His wife lived at ground zero. Rachael taught third grade at the DoD school. 

The ground plummeted away as he escaped over Pati Point, the cliffs at the end of the runway. He leveled at 350 feet, 540 knots, wings swept full aft, above a sea slick with morning light. He banked left and rolled out heading 360. He didn’t really know why, it just made intuitive sense. His heart pounded. He just took off without a plan. He locked eyes with Lenihan and saw his own terror reflected back. 

An immense flash of light lit up the area behind the aircraft.

“Did they nuke us?” asked Lenihan.

“I don’t know.”

______________________________________________________________________________________

Despite its capabilities, the Air Force didn’t want the B-1B. No matter how sexy a Cold War killer it was, without stealth, its ability to penetrate highly contested airspace came under increasing doubt, besides it was just a bit too long in the tooth, a money sponge sucking up resources for new hardware. The Air Force didn’t want the Navy to have it either. Bombing was firmly within the realm of Air Force mission sets and who needed the competition; besides, the Navy had their P-8 Poseidons to prowl the oceans.

Oddly enough, the Navy was in violent agreement and did not wish to take custody of the aging platform. Not only were they expensive, but philosophically, operating the B-1B was de facto proof that aircraft carriers were vulnerable to shore-based bombers firing standoff weapons, and the Air Force did not need any help making that argument. But a shipbuilding program crippled by persistent economic recession, a suspicious shipyard fire that scrapped the USS Abraham Lincoln, and the cancelation of USS Doris Miller meant that the Navy had a power projection problem in the Pacific ocean. 

Boeing lobbyists, Congress, and a dusted-off RAND study forced the matter and twelve B-1B Lancers were regenerated from Davis-Monthan’s Type 1000 storage and bailed to the U.S. Navy. Six were based in Japan, six in Guam. 

 Only one would make it to the fight. 

______________________________________________________________________________________

“What are we doing?” asked Lenihan.

“I don’t know yet.” Cohen had a digital copy of yesterday’s intel brief on his secure tablet with the last known positions of the three Chinese Carrier Strike Groups. Very unusual for all three to be at sea at the same time. The Chinese had claimed it was an exercise. 

He rotated through Guam center, tower, and ground frequencies. Dead air. The frequencies for Guam International Airport were also quiet. No sense in taking out one airfield and leaving the other. 

“Lenny, you are gonna have to run both defense and offense. Load up the ESM library so we can see who is out here with us.” 

“We’re only half a crew and we don’t have orders,” said Lenihan.

“We will just do our jobs,” said Cohen. “Best we can.”

Lenihan looked hesitant but finally said, “I’m on it.” He left the cockpit to take his position at the Offensive Weapon Systems Operator’s station behind the cockpit.

______________________________________________________________________________________

Calmer now, Cohen took the time to organize his cockpit and back himself up with his NATOPS checklist. What did he know?

GPS and SATCOM systems were down. Earth’s orbit was probably a tumbling satellite graveyard. No way to get confirmation or authorization. Bone Daddy’s inertial navigation system was upgraded with the new MAGNAV system so he knew where he was in the world. He flew undamaged over a blue Pacific Ocean darted with sunlight after a horrific ballistic missile attack that destroyed Andersen. With the aux tank in the forward bay, he had nine hours of fuel, enough for Taiwan and back. Bone Daddy was alone and loaded for a sea denial mission. 

Fights on. 

Time to deny the sea.

“Library is loaded. I’m getting hits. Nothing military. Commercial navigation radars. Developing passive tracks,” said Lenihan over the ICS.

“Okay, thanks,” said Cohen.

Cohen thought of his wife and how scared she must be. If she was still alive. He went there, indulging his inner darkness. How screwed up the world must be for her to be a casualty before him. “Find me something Chinese and military to shoot at.”

______________________________________________________________________________________

Airman Morales’s head throbbed and blood ran into his eyes from a gash across his forehead. He felt scalped. He scooped pulverized concrete debris with the front loader’s bucket and as it rolled forward a blackened human torso tumbled into view. Intestines spooled out from the ruptured body and the remains fell out of sight. Between the broken-up dead and the toxic smoke, the smell was atrocious, and with the tropical heat, the stench would only get worse. He stopped and vomited between his legs.

“What the hell are you doing?” yelled Master Sergeant Grady.

“Master Sergeant, there’s people in the…”

“No. We don’t have time. Fill those holes in the runway. Just do it.”

Morales nodded. If a man with third degree burns and half a uniform gave you orders, you followed. Besides, he was the only one within sight that had his shit together.

“There is a bird out there, Morales. It needs to come home,” explained the Master Sergeant.

How could you tell? thought Morales. Cratered runways. Flattened buildings. Blasted aircraft. Fires burned everywhere and no one was putting them out. It was like a malignant god had reached down and stirred the Earth. Everything was chaos except for the Master Sergeant. Morales wiped his sour mouth and nodded in affirmation. His head pounded. Smoke stung his eyes.

Stop thinking. 

Start doing. 

Nothing easier than filling holes and there were more than enough to keep him busy. 

The front loader’s engine drowned out the screams of the nearly dead.

______________________________________________________________________________________

“I got something. Someone broke EMCON,” said Lenihan. “A single hit on a Type 348 fire control radar associated with 37 millimeter close-in weapon system. Mounted on multiple classes of Chinese warships. Bears 002, indefinite range. It lasted about 15 seconds.”

“Okay turning to. Keep me updated.” He flew hands on at 1500 feet above the Pacific. BARALT hold on. RADALT hold off. Unlikely that radar altimeter emissions would travel far enough for detection, but before a few hours ago, missiles raining down on Guam were also considered unlikely. He was much calmer. The routine demands of flying focused his mind. Let the training win.

Maybe we should have seen it coming? Fractured domestic stability, strengthening Taiwanese independence movements, and an aging Xi Jinping under threat of losing power necessitated a big win against an external enemy. Seems like today was the day. 

They flew on.

______________________________________________________________________________________

“I got another hit. X band, KLJ-7A off of FC-31 fighters. Multiple hits. Hostile and friendly. The world’s gone active. Something big is going on. Multiple surface search and fire control radars bear 006.”

Once opposing forces had found each other, the battlespace lit up with electromagnetic energy. No sense in being quiet once discovered. Kinetics followed. DF-17 hypersonic missiles launched from H-6N bombers slalomed out of the sky and were met with directed energy fire from Constellation-class frigates. Aegis-guided SM-3 interceptors slammed into DF-21 anti-ship ballistic missiles. Deep penetrating F-35 Lightnings parsed the battlespace to millimeter fidelity. Radars and countermeasures went dark as weapons systems delivered concrete results. Ships burned. Wingless aircraft tumbled from the sky. 

But that was none of his concern. 

The AN/ALG-161C electronic support measures system classified targets down to the hull numbers and he had a good idea which hulls needed destroying.

“Lenny, do you have anything for me?” asked Cohen. 

“I do. I’ve got Link 16 off a Triton. We are participating,” said Lenihan. 

The mission panel display electronically sketched out the largest sea battle since World War II in abstract symbology. Three Chinese and two American carrier strike groups had committed to destroying each other. The Kennedy and Ford had engaged the Liaoning, Shandong, and the newer type-003 Carrier, Chairman Mao Zedong

“Let’s get into the fight,” said Cohen. Now that he knew where he was going and who to shoot at, he descended to 500 feet and accelerated.

______________________________________________________________________________________

“Targets designated,” said Lenihan. “Platform.”

Cohen leveled the wings. Hit the pre-arm/release switch. He opened the bays and added power to maintain airspeed.

No need to get specific with AGM-158D’s. Their evil little minds had already tapped into the open architecture of the Offensive Weapon Suite and they had a pretty good idea of their role in the matter. The weapons collaborated and decided upon a course of action to defeat the shotgun destroyers flanking the Chinese carriers. They presented the plan to the aircraft commander as if he could come up with something better.

“Contacts inbound. FC-31s. We’re about to be engaged!” said Lenihan. “Am I cleared?”

“Cleared for release,” said Cohen.

One-by-one, the AGM’s fell into the slipstream. Wings snapped open like switchblades and engines ignited. Transition to cruise. 

Lenihan called the deployment. “One of sixteen away. Two of sixteen away.”

The sixth missile malfunctioned when one wing failed to extend. The motor ignited and the missile corkscrewed into the sea.

The first AGM’s out the door throttled back and waited for their siblings to catch up. The weapons formed and swarmed, splitting into three flights of five. Each calculated to travel 200 nautical miles and arrive on target within milliseconds of each other. 

 “Sixteen of sixteen away, cleared to maneuver,” said Lenihan.

Cohen closed the weapon bay doors and threw the aircraft into a hard ninety-degree knife edge turn. His little piece of the war was over. He pushed the nose down, aiming for 200 feet, hoping to get lost in the wave clutter. He firewalled the throttles. Nothing in the inventory flew better low-level than a Bone. 

FC-31s closed, and his defensive systems could feel the tickle of KLJ-7A radars burning through Lenihan’s jamming. The KLJ-7A radar guided two PL-12s, China’s AIM-120 equivalent, until the missile activated its own terminal guidance radar.

“Two PL-12s. Active. Stinger’s hot,” said Lenihan. “Platform.”

Cohen had a choice. Attempt to defeat the missiles with maneuver and conventional jamming or go wings level and let Stinger, the 90-kilowatt laser pod mounted to Bone Daddy’s empennage, work its sci-fi magic.

Well, he couldn’t pull 39 g’s to evade and the missile had a home-on-jam attack mode. “Platform,” he acknowledged. 

Wings level. 

Sitting duck.

The laser fired, indicated only by an alert on his panel. He held his breath and waited for the missiles to shred his aircraft. 

“Splash two. Targets down,” said Lenihan.

“Amen,” said Cohen.

______________________________________________________________________________________

Runway Six Left looked like a dirt strip, but it was far better than Six Right. A bulldozer pushed the wreckage of a bat-winged B-21. The aircraft had hit a crater at near takeoff speed and had disintegrated into a spray of toxic, composite fire. Somewhere in that tangled, smoldering mass were the remains of two pilots. Someone would look later. 

The Master Sergeant had impressed the walking wounded into working parties, and they groomed Six Left with shovels, rakes, brooms, and bare hands. It was like a zombie FOD walkdown, but he took what he could get. What was he supposed to do? The damn runways were his and until someone came along and told him to stop, he would do what he was supposed to do, keep it flat and smooth. Someone’s pickup truck arrived with bags of concrete acquired from out in town. They dumped the bags on the top of the tamped down rubble to fill in the gaps. If they could get some water, they could make a surface that might not tear the gear right out from under an aircraft. Maybe the Marines were right. Vertical was the way to go. 

He stood on a filled 30-foot crater and knew it was someone’s grave.

______________________________________________________________________________________

Cohen ran on fumes with engine number three shut down for high turbine temperature. He identified Guam by the smear of smoke marring the horizon. No one answered the radio.

He bypassed Andersen and marked on top Guam international. No one challenged him. Guam International still burned and the airfield looked like the surface of the moon, but the area around the airport looked intact. Thank God for precision weapons. 

Lenihan stood and peered through the windscreen “It’s still there.”

“Hard to sink an island.”

“They sure tried.”

Cohen flashed the wings over his house. If Rachael was alive, she would look up and see a B-1B with Jack Skellington nose art, and she would know he was okay. He tried to pick out his house through the smoke and summer haze, but he couldn’t.

“She’s okay,” said Lenihan.

“I know,” said Cohen, but he really didn’t. 

They overflew Andersen , entering a wide overhead pattern mindful of his one engine out. People and construction equipment scattered from runway Six Left. It looked rough, but he didn’t think his aircraft would drop into a crater. He extended his downwind and turned to final. Full forward sweep.

The main mounts touched down and chirped. He held the nose, bleeding off airspeed. The aircraft shuddered over the rough patches but didn’t sink in. When all three were on the ground, he deployed spoilers and brakes that threw him into his straps. The aircraft roller-coastered over the filled craters but it stayed straight and dirty-side down. He laid on the wheel brakes hard. 

God bless whoever filled those holes. He steered off the last taxiway and dead-ended at a smoldering pile of debris.

Fatigue swamped him, running right through his body like a train. He felt like he could sleep right here in his seat, the seat that still had the ejection seat pin in place.

He pulled the throttles to off, not bothering with the shutdown checks or starting the APUs, His cockpit faded to dark under protest. His NATOPS was around here somewhere.

“I have to go find Rachael.”

“I’ll go with you.”

Epilogue

Commander Martha Fluckey, Commanding Officer of the USS Barb, a Block V Virginia-class submarine, had the wounded and unescorted Mao Zedong, the sole surviving Chinese carrier, in her sights. The carrier had taken three AGM-158D hits from a lone B-1B coming at her from an unexpected direction. The ship’s island was a twisted steel stump and the hangar deck was a burned-out cave. It wasn’t fighting, but it still floated.

That was her problem to deal with.

She felt the thump of four Mk-48 torpedoes leaving her tubes. She waited and listened. 

Her sonarman turned and nodded. All four, thousand-pound warheads had detonated on target. 

“Launch drone.” 

The drone burst the ocean’s surface and streaked towards the mortally- wounded carrier. 

She vectored the drone’s BDA to the boat’s display panels.

She and her crew watched in silence. Such a high-definition spectacle seemed more like a Hollywood special effect than a military victory. Tons of water poured into the carrier’s hull. It rolled in a sudden catastrophic upset pitching debris and men over the sides. Such a monstrous thing to witness.

“Send message. Scratch one flat top.”

Mike Barretta Is a naval aviator having flown the SH-60B helicopter on multiple deployments. He currently works for a defense contractor as a maintenance test pilot.

Featured Image: “concept for Boeing- B-1 bomber” by James Vaughan via Artstation.

Any Clime and Place

Fiction Contest Week

By First Lieutenant Karl Flynn, USMC

First Lieutenant Liu, USMC, looked north out to sea toward the Luzon Strait. The sky was turning amber and orange as the sun sank toward the horizon. He knew Taiwan lay beyond the horizon 200 kilometers away. As he often did, he began to wonder what was happening there. As a platoon commander, he was not privy to strategic level actions. Even if he had had internet access, it would have been impossible to discern the truth from news sources, much less social media. Both sides were pushing as much deception as possible. Liu knew he probably wouldn’t find out until well after the war concluded, which, as far as he knew, could last for a very, very long time.

We’re probably in more or less of a stalemate. Since the Ford got hit by that DF-21, we’re not gonna get much help. The Navy won’t risk any carriers—or amphibs—within 1,500 clicks of any Chinese-held island, so there’s no force substantial enough that can get close enough to do anything. On the other hand, the PLAN has to be terrified of the subs we’ve got left. After the Shandong was sunk by—presumably—a fast attack, they won’t want to risk their ships on the high seas, either.

“Sir, the boat’s heading back.”

Liu looked at his squad leader. Sergeant Morales was lying in a small depression at the edge of the beach with his binoculars trained on a vessel a few hundred meters offshore. The craft was an optionally manned surface vessel about 30 feet long. The Marines used its high resolution sonar to check on the fuel bladders that were staged on the seafloor and to ferry supplies.

“So it is. Buford, what’s it saying?”

What appeared to be a small grassy hill replied. “Scan shows the dracones that were supposed to arrive are there, sir. I have the grids to both of them.” Corporal Buford, the platoon radio operator, was laying under a camouflage net to conceal the laptop screen he was looking at.

Perfect. The divers can get them checked tomorrow morning. At 935 tons each, that brings our fuel total to 3,740 tons. Well, that’s fuel that we have underwater. We still have those two fuel bladders at the FARP. Even after the Seahawk topped off this morning we’ve barely put a dent in them.

“Roger, let’s head back. Once we get there get those grids to the divers. Lieutenant Bolton will want them to check the dracones first thing tomorrow.”

“Roger.”

Buford started packing up his Toughbook and radio while the rest of the squad assumed a staggered column formation.

Liu keyed his radio. “Sentinel, this is white one, over.”

A voice responded, “White one, go for Sentinel, over.”

“Patrol is retrograding. No change to pack count or route.”

“Copy. Roger up as you pass the ground sensors, over.”

“White one copies, out.”

Liu gave the hand signal to begin moving. Once the lead element of the patrol reached where the ground sensors were emplaced, Liu got back on his radio.

“Sentinel, this is white one, passing ground sensors, over.”

“Sentinel copies. We’re picking you up. See you shortly, over.”

“Roger, out.”

______________________________________________________________________________________

The island the Marines were on was named Siayan. Barely a kilometer north to south, the island was part of the Batanes Islands halfway between Taiwan and The Philippines. Siayan was home to a total of 91 personnel including 60 Marines, 15 sailors, and 16 soldiers who manned the Expeditionary Advanced Base (EAB) under the command of a Navy surface warfare officer, Lieutenant Bolton. The Marines on the island included a mobile reconnaissance platoon reinforced with a rifle squad and an aircraft maintenance detachment of about 20 Marines. There were six sailors who operated and maintained a C-RAM system, six communications specialists, and two Navy divers. The Army also had a detachment of 17 soldiers who operated and maintained surface-to-air missiles. The senior-most soldier was Sergeant First Class McDaniel who had spent his career in the Army’s air defense artillery branch. The EAB also boasted a forward arming and refueling point and an expeditionary pier to accommodate small surface craft.

As the Marines patrolled back, they passed THAAD and MEADS launchers. Though operated by the Army, they were compatible with the Navy’s Aegis system. These weapons made Siayan a node in the network of sensors and shooters on land, at sea, and in the air. The Navy had calculated that this particular EAB would present a low payoff target to the PLA. While it was certainly a thorn in their side, Navy planners—and Liu—hoped that it would be just not enough of a thorn to warrant deliberate action to destroy it.

The sun was setting over the trees as the Marines arrived at their expeditionary shelters. These were essentially shipping containers with lighting and climate control, though air conditioning was never used in order to save fuel. Eleven were used by the Marines, sailors, and soldiers. The three that were used for command and control always had their air conditioning units running to cool their electronic systems. This made them a popular spot for Marines to congregate. Gunnery Sergeant Cunningham—Liu’s platoon sergeant—regularly had to kick them out. Three other shelters were used to store supplies including replacement parts, lubricants, coolant, hydraulic fluid, sonobuoys, ammunition, and several tons of food.

The last three shelters were usually empty. Periodically, they would be used by an enabling asset dispatched to the EAB. These included Seabees during the EAB’s initial construction, Navy EOD personnel, and various maintenance teams. When they weren’t in use, the sailors, soldiers, and Marines turned them into gyms using makeshift exercise equipment. Liu passed his shelter and headed for the communications shelter. He unlatched the door, entered, and sealed the door behind him, then looked at the sailor behind the computer screen.

“We’re back. Anything for me?”

“Yes, sir, I was about to radio you. Just heard from the Petersen’s Seahawk. The pilot said they ran into some kind of maintenance issue and that we’re the closest place to go. They’ll land in about 20 minutes.”

This doesn’t sound good.

“OK. I take it Lieutenant Bolton and Staff Sergeant Garrison aren’t tracking yet?”

“Yes, sir.”

“Roger, I’ll go let them know.”

“I can do that for—” he started to get up from his chair, but Liu motioned for him to stay seated.

“No need. I’d rather deliver the bad news than make you do it.”

Liu found Lieutenant Bolton talking to Staff Sergeant Garrison by the balloon tether shortly after the sun set. He looked up at the balloon floating several hundred feet above him, still visible in the twilight. The balloon was a relic from the global war on terror. In Afghanistan, Marines used aerostats to give powerful optics a bird’s eye view of the battlefield. Although SSgt Garrison’s primary job was aircraft maintenance, he was also involved in maintenance for systems on the EAB. Liu walked up as the two were having a conversation about the EAB’s distillers. Bolton saw Liu approaching.

“What’s up, Liu?”

“Good afternoon, gents. I have good news, but I’m afraid I also have some bad news.” Bolton and Garrison exchanged a look.

Here it goes.

“The Seahawk ran into a maintenance issue. It’s heading back here.”

“Sir, did they say what the issue was?” Garrison asked.

“I’m afraid not, Staff Sergeant.” Garrison started walking to the communications shelter grumbling curses under his breath. Liu continued, “Good news is we confirmed that those two dracones are right where they’re supposed to be.”

Bolton thought for a moment. “That helo will probably keep Staff Sergeant and his Marines busy for a while.”

“Yes, sir.”

“Anything else from your patrol?”

“No, sir.”

“OK. Have you eaten anything since you’ve been back?”

“No, sir.”

“Alright.” Bolton sighed in frustration. “Go get some chow. Once Staff Sergeant is done talking to the helo crew I’ll start passing our situation up the chain of command.”

“Aye aye, sir.”

Liu started walking back to his Marines.

Guess he’s not that mad after all.

______________________________________________________________________________________

A few minutes later, Liu was eating and chatting with his Marines when Bolton came out of the communications shelter. He saw Liu and started walking over to him. Liu started to get up.

“Sit down, Liu.”

This probably won’t be good.

“Roger, sir.” Liu complied.

Bolton continued, “Just got off the hook with higher and the Seahawk crew. They think they know what the issue is and they have the part to fix it—at the airfield on Itbayat.”

Itbayat was a substantially larger island eight kilometers southwest of Siayan.

I don’t like where this is going.

“Once they land Staff Sergeant Garrison can confirm which part they need. Once he does, I need you to take one of the ARVs to get it.”

Now I see why he’s not angry: it’s my problem, not his. Looks like I won’t be getting any sleep tonight.

“Understood, sir.”

Bolton nodded, then headed back to the communications shelter. Liu got up to go find his gunner, Corporal Olson. Both Marines had initially trained on the LAV-25 when the Marine Corps still fielded LAR units. The Marines had replaced the LAV with the Amphibious Reconnaissance Vehicle (ARV) and used them to form Mobile Reconnaissance Battalions (MRBs). MRBs also employed smaller ground vehicles, unmanned aircraft, and optionally manned surface vessels. While LAR units could only conduct terrestrial operations, MRBs could operate in the littorals.

The ARV itself was lightyears ahead of the LAV-25. It was capable of swimming in the open ocean and was armed with a bigger main gun and a TOW missile launcher from the Army’s Bradley fighting vehicle. The gun sights were upgraded and the commander had an independent optics suite that could be raised on a mast while the vehicle hid behind cover. The ARV also boasted laser warning receivers, a gunfire locater, an active protection system, smoke grenade launchers, a smoke generator, and an EM sensor and countermeasure suite capable of locating and jamming radar emitters and multi-band radio communications. The vehicle’s software was constantly searching the image from the sights for threats. It could highlight them for the crew or automatically slew the turret to them depending on the setting.

Liu walked past the two ARVs parked next to the tether and headed toward his gunner’s shelter as darkness settled in. Liu knocked on the door and Olson opened it.

“What’s up, sir?”

“The helo is on its way back. We’re probably going to have to get a part for it from Itbayat.”

“Good to go, sir.”

As Liu was leaving, he saw Gunny Cunningham running toward him.

“Sir, ground sensors picked up something on the northeast shore.”

Liu’s blood ran cold.

If there’s someone else on the island, surely the balloon would’ve seen something. How could they possibly have gotten past all of the other sensors, too?

Unbeknownst to Liu, a Chinese Yuan-class submarine had discreetly slipped past the sonar nets protecting the island over an hour earlier and bottomed out less than five nautical miles from where he stood. A force of eight naval commandos had, in fact, made it past the watchful eyes of the surveillance balloon.

“Get the platoon ready. I’ll take the ARVs offshore, you take the dismounts overland like we rehearsed.”

“Roger.”

Both Marines turned on their heels. Gunnery Sergeant Cunningham started rounding up Marines. Liu ran back into the shelter and relayed the same information to Olson who immediately started putting on his gear. Liu didn’t wait for him. He ran straight to his ARV passing sailors, soldiers, and Marines who were preparing their own weapons and gear.

In less than three minutes, both ARVs were moving. He passed a sitrep to Lieutenant Bolton as his driver moved the vehicle toward the shore.

“Splashing!” the driver announced as the vehicle plowed into the waves. Liu felt the ARV slow down, then settle into a steady speed as it began to float.

“Roger,” Liu said, then switched to external comms. “White one, feet wet, out.”

“White two, feet wet, out.” Liu glanced to his right. He saw the splash of his wingman’s vehicle entering the ocean through his PVS-31 binocular night vision system.

“White three, this is white one, I need a posrep every 100 meters, over.”

“One this is three, wilco, out.”

As Cunningham responded, Liu looked at his map.

If they move quietly, it’ll take them eight minutes to reach the ground sensors. How many troops is Gunny going to run into? There can’t be that many. Any sizeable force would need a surface vessel. Swimmer delivery vehicles can only hold a few people. Unless there’s more than one…

The radio brought Liu out of his thoughts.

“White one, this is sentinel, over.”

“Sentinel, go for white one, over.”

“Update to enemy posrep: ground sensors active 150 meters west of the promontory, over.”

Liu looked at his map again.

“Roger. Let me know if they pick up more movement, over.”

“Wilco, out.”

The direction of fire should be safe if we can engage them once we round the northern point of the island.

“Three, this is one, I’m going to recon by fire once we pass the north point. Stay south of the northern cache, over.”

“Roger. Three standing by for recon by fire, out.”

As the ARVs were about to round the northern point of the island, Liu heard helicopter rotors. He turned around to see the Seahawk plain as day through his night vision tubes flying northeast.

Go find that sub and kill him.

Liu looked back toward the island. The vehicle was moments away from passing the northern point. He quickly glanced at his wingman who was staggered behind and to his right, then lowered himself into the turret as the northeast shore came into view.

“Infantry in the treeline!” Olson announced. Liu pushed a button on his hand control to bring up his gunner’s view. Liu felt a surge of excitement when he saw two human forms through the gun sight’s thermal imager.

There they are.

“Three, this is one, confirm you have no one on the north shore, over.”

“One, this is three, affirmative. We’re at the cache, over.”

“Roger, break.” Liu unkeyed then rekeyed the radio. “White two, simultaneous engagement, enemy infantry, 135 degrees, 400 meters, HE 200, over.” As his wingman acknowledged the fire command, Liu switched back to the intercom. “Infantry, HE 200, fire and adjust.”

“On the way!” Olson replied.

Within seconds of one another, both ARVs’ main guns barked three times in quick succession. Four hundred meters was practically point blank for a 30mm gun, so both gunners found their mark. The explosions registered as huge flashes in the sights. After the flashes vanished, both thermal signatures were gone.

“Cease fire, target destroyed.”

There’s probably not even enough of those poor guys to bury.

“White three, this is white one. Two troops destroyed, over.”

“One, this is three, that must’ve spooked them. We can hear them moving our way. We’re setting into a hasty ambush, over.”

“Roger, we’ll hold here in case they try to make a break for the beach, out.”

Six hundred meters southeast, Gunny Cunningham directed his Marines into an L-shaped ambush. As they lay in wait, he heard the commandos running toward his position, unknowingly placing themselves directly in his engagement area. In less than a minute, he could see them through his thermal sight. He waited as they closed to 50 meters. As the enemy paused to regroup, Cunningham placed his reticle on the leftmost commando’s temple. When he fired, he saw half of the man’s head disappear.

The report of his M27 instantly triggered the rest of the Marines to open fire. Some fired automatic bursts from their rifles while grenadiers fired 40 millimeter grenades. As Cunningham transitioned to another target, he could already see the impacts of the bullets on their bodies and the explosions from the grenade launchers. The commandos didn’t even have a chance to return fire.

“Cease fire!” The roar of the ambush was quickly replaced with the faint sound of diesel engines and helicopter rotors.

Nine kilometers north, the Seahawk was at work. Lieutenant Griffin lowered its dipping sonar into the sea. The moment the sensor sank beneath the water’s surface, it detected a passive sonar contact. 

We’re right on top of him!

“Sonar contact, extremely close! That’s got to be the sub.”

“Concur. Launch the outboard torpedo.”

Before the pilot finished speaking, she was already adjusting the weapon presets on one of the Mark 46 torpedoes. As soon as she was finished, she felt the aircraft shudder as the weight of the torpedo fell away.

“Bloodhound away!”

After falling into the ocean, the torpedo’s computer activated its passive sonar seeker and initiated a circular search pattern. It quickly found the submarine still sitting on the seafloor. The torpedo raced toward the sub. At such a close range, there was nothing the submarine skipper could do. Less than two minutes after release, the torpedo detonated.

As the Seahawk’s crew confirmed the kill with their dipping sonar, Gunny Cunningham watched his Marines search the bodies of the four dead commandos while his corpsman stabilized the two wounded ones.

These guys and all their gear will be an intelligence goldmine. Hopefully we can get them out of here before the PLA figures out what happened.

As though he had read Cunningham’s mind, Lieutenant Bolton came over the radio.

“White three, this is Sentinel actual, over.”

“Go for white three, over.”

“Once those EPWs are stable enough to move get them to the FARP as soon as possible. An Osprey is en route to get them, over.”

“White three copies, out.”

That was quicker than I expected.

Doc Robinson had overheard the radio traffic. “Gunny, they’re ambulatory. We can move now.”

“Sentinel actual, this is white three. We are oscar mike to the FARP, over.”

“Roger, out.”

First Lieutenant Flynn is a platoon commander in Comanche Company, Third Light Armored Reconnaissance Battalion, at the Marine Corps Air Ground Combat Center in Twentynine Palms, California.

Featured Image: “Operation FireFly,” by Tyler Thull via Artstation